Note: This story appears in the Sunday, Nov. 10 newspaper on Page B2.
To hear Frank Solich tell it, nothing has changed for the Bobcats despite the season-altering result on Wednesday night.
The Bobcats (4-5, 3-2 Mid-American Conference) are on the brink of elimination in the MAC East Division title race following a 24-21 home loss to Miami (5-4, 4-1 MAC) last week.
Ohio remains alive, mathematically, for the division title and the corresponding spot in the MAC title game that goes with it. But ‘alive’ and ‘likely to happen’ are a world apart.
For OU to win the division, Ohio would have to win its final three games including Tuesday’s home finale against visiting Western Michigan (6-4, 4-2 MAC). Also, the Bobcats now need Miami to lose two of its final three games; the RedHawks have to play Bowling Green, Akron and Ball State down the stretch.
But for Solich, Ohio’s 15th-year head coach, the task ahead of his team remains untainted by the current circumstances.
“We’re still in the race, but you need a ton of help and then we have to finish it off,” Solich said during his weekly press conference, held Friday at Peden Stadium.
“Putting that aside, we set out to win every football game. That’s the mission that we are on when we take on a season.
“We’ve got three left, and that’s what we want to get done, and that’s what we’ll aim all our energy toward.”
Solich, and his staff, will try to get the Bobcats to worry about that moving forward. It was clear after Wednesday’s loss the players were aware of how precarious their position in the MAC East would be moving forward.
Ohio needs Miami to lose to either Bowling Green — the fifth-place team in the MAC East — or Akron. And the Zips are winless and look to be a sure bet to end the year 0-12.
“There’s not a scale. This one hurts and the implications are what they are,” said Ohio senior quarterback Nathan Rourke on Wednesday. “The right approach is to think about the next three games.
“To be honest, it’s pretty tough right now.”
Senior linebacker Eric Popp echoed the sentiment.
“You got 24 hours to think about this one. You got to put it behind you,” Popp said. “Look forward to the next three games and do what we can continue to do.”
Unfortunately for Ohio, they have some experience being in this spot. After the loss in 2018 against Miami, the Bobcats found themselves looking for some help to capture division-leading Buffalo.
It didn’t happen, but Ohio won each of their final two games and then a bowl game. The Bobcats will have to find a way to muster up the same kind of toughness again, even though a division title is a long shot.
And if OU wants a 13th game, it’ll need to win out to guarantee it. The Bobcats are still two wins short of bowl eligibility, and traditionally MAC teams have never received a bowl bid with less than seven wins. Ohio was 6-6 in 2014 and did not get a bowl invitation, for example.
Solich has believed in the work ethic and character of this team all season. He said he’s confident it’ll show again in the ‘Cats last three games.
“I think that’s what we are,” Solich said. “We’ll continue to set out to play our best football.”